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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Kingsman’s Take on Drug Cartels Is More Fact than Fiction

The main take-away from the movie is that freedom is our true hero.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the sequel of Kingsman: The Secret Service. Full of uniquely stylized action scenes, deadly technology, and eccentric villains, the Kingsman movies provide an escape from reality for the ordinary viewer. Yet, the movie’s plot also provides economic insights that ground the movie back into reality.

The plot follows the Kingsmen’s attempt to thwart both the evil plans of a monopolistic drug cartel run by Poppy Adams and the plans of the President of the United States. Unlike most action movies, there are two villains with opposing goals and a third-party hero (the Kingsmen) having to thwart both plans.

The Kingsmen’s dilemma is to stop both parties from killing innocent victims.

Poppy Adam’s motivations are, in a sense, noble. She runs a worldwide drug cartel that profited $250 billion in one year; yet, she laments that she must hide in isolation as her alcohol and tobacco counterparts embrace public praise. Thus, all she aims to do is end the War on Drugs and derive public praise for herself. Being a proper villain, Poppy is willing to put millions of lives in danger to achieve her goal.

Of course, in the film, the President of the United States (subtly suggested to be a Republican) will do anything to keep the War on Drugs intact. Unsurprisingly, his attempt to thwart Poppy’s plans also put millions in danger. The Kingsmen’s dilemma is, of course, to stop both parties from killing innocent victims.

The War on Drugs Made Poppy Adams Rich

How did Poppy Adams emerge as the leader of a monopolistic drug cartel? Well, she had a lot of help from the government. When the government prohibits something from legally being distributed and directs enormous amounts of resources to control the distribution of that substance, only firms with comparable amounts of resources will be able to circumvent these interdiction efforts and survive. Thus, the government’s War on Drugs has acted as a natural selection mechanism, eliminating the growth of less-resourced firms and catalyzing the development of well-resourced firms.

Poppy Adam’s firm just happened to be the last one standing. As other cartels were driven out of the market by government interdiction, Poppy’s firm gained larger shares of the market, allowing even more money to be invested in resources to evade interdiction. With these greater resources, Poppy’s firm was less likely to be the next one eliminated by interdiction. As more and more firms are eliminated via government suppression, Poppy’s market share and resources directed at evading interdiction increase simultaneously, leading to a monopolistic cartel.

“The purpose of the government is to protect the drug cartel.” – Milton Friedman

Eventually, Poppy’s firm amassed so many resources that government efforts could not match their distributive efforts. Although this sequence of events is not explicitly acknowledged in the movie, the depiction of Poppy’s headquarters imply this mechanism. Poppy’s firm has illusive distribution centers in every major city in the world, world-class technology, massive weaponry, and a mighty army of well-trained henchmen to do all the dirty work for her. Such an effect is exactly what Milton Friedman predicted when he said, “The purpose of the government is to protect the drug cartel.”

The Secret Enemy and the Real Hero

I won’t disclose the details of how this plays out in the movie, but there comes a point where a third force comes to the defense of the War on Drugs: Big Alcohol. Similar to reality, special interest support of the War on Drugs is not always apparent until the legislation is under attack. Making the movie’s introduction of this interest group into the plot is extremely fitting.

What interest does Big Alcohol have in maintaining the War on Drugs? Looking at marijuana specifically, evidence suggests that legalization reduces alcohol sales and serves as a treatment for alcoholism. According to statistics, marijuana provides a safer way compared to alcohol to de-stress. In essence, marijuana is direct competition to alcohol, and businesses do not like competition.

Though I was not a huge fan of the movie overall, it was entertaining and offered substantive social commentary on outdated legislation. The movie brilliantly portrays the drug cartel, the United States Federal Government, and special interest groups as enemies to public welfare. Freedom is our true hero.

The main takeaway from the movie is that freedom is our true hero. Having the freedom to decide what goes into our own bodies would have yielded the same results as when the Kingsmen saved the world, minus the collateral damage. Although not as entertaining, hopefully, one day we will save ourselves by reclaiming the rights to our bodies instead of passively waiting to be saved by fictional superheroes.

  • Jordan is a 3rd-Year Biochemistry and Cell Biology Major at the University of California, San Diego.